Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Former Dem pollster says media has become the enemy of the American people

September 28, 2012

On September 21st, Pat Caddell, a former Democratic pollster and analyst said at the “Accuracy in Media” conference:

I think we’re at the most dangerous time in our political history in terms of the balance of power in the role that the media plays in whether or not we maintain a free democracy.

Here’s the crux of it: “It is one thing to bias the news, or have a biased view. It is another thing to specifically decide that you will not tell the American people information they have a right to know.

This is tragically evident with the death of a US Ambassador and a subsequent cover-up.

“We’ve had nine day of lies over what happened because they can’t dare say it’s a terrorist attack, and the press won’t push this. Yesterday there was not a single piece in The New York Times over the question of Libya. Twenty American embassies, yesterday, are under attack. None of that is on the national news. None of it is being pressed in the papers. If a President of either party—I don’t care whether it was Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton or George Bush or Ronald Reagan or George H. W. Bush—had a terrorist incident, and got on an airplane after saying something, and flown off to a fundraiser in Las Vegas, they would have been crucified! It would have been—it should have been the equivalent, for Barack Obama, of George Bush’s “flying over Katrina” moment. But nothing was said at all, and nothing will be said.”

He pointed to a recent Gallup poll that showed a full 60% have LITTLE or NO confidence in today’s media. As he continued his speech, he said:

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece which was called “The Audacity of Cronyism” in Breitbart, and my talk today is “The Audacity of Corruption.” What I pointed out was, it was appalling that Valerie Jarrett had a Secret Service detail—a woman in the White House is a senior aide with a full a Secret Service detail, including on vacation, and nobody in the press had asked why. That has become more poignant, as I said, last week, when we discovered that we had an American ambassador, on the anniversary of 9/11, who was without adequate security—while she still has a Secret Service detail assigned to her full-time, at a massive cost, and no one in the media has gone to ask why.

And again:

Peter Schweizer has done a study talking about corruption. Sixty percent or 80%—it’s closer to 80% I think, now—of the money given under the stimulus to green energy projects—the President and this administration’s great project—has gone to people who are either bundlers or major contributors to Barack Obama. But nobody says a word. Of course Republicans don’t raise it because they just—in Washington, they simply want to do it when they get back in power, so they won’t raise it, and, of course, the press doesn’t because they basically have taken themselves out of doing their job.

He concludes with this:

The press’s job is to stand in the ramparts and protect the liberty and freedom of all of us from a government and from organized governmental power. When they desert those ramparts and go to serve—to decide that they will now become an active participants—when they decide that their job is not simply to tell you who you may vote for, and who you may not, but, worse—and this is the danger of the last two weeks—what truth that you may know, as an American, and what truth you are not allowed to know, they have, then, made themselves a fundamental threat to the democracy, and, in my opinion, made themselves the enemy of the American people.

Wanna watch it yourself? Here it is:

Blagojevich convicted of trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat

June 27, 2011

Months after the fact, a jury in Illinois finally convicted former governor Rod Blagojevich on 17 of 20 public corruption charges. They acquitted the former governor on one count of bribery and could not reach a verdict on two counts of attempted extortion, including one involving the current Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Today’s verdicts come with the second trial for Blagojevich. Last year’s trial ended with the jury dead-locking on all but one count of lying to the FBI. Blagojevich was reportedly stunned and “very disappointed” at today’s verdicts.

At the time of his arrest, two years into his second term, court-authorized wiretaps caught Blagoyevich offering Obama’s Senate seat in exchange for favors, including a job with a non-profit or a union, corporate posts for his wife, campaign contributions or even a post in the Obama administration. In fact, he considered appointing himself to the open Senate seat, thinking that his indictment would go better as a sitting Senator than as a governor – plus the federal contacts he made as a Senator would benefit him down the road. (Insert eyeroll here)

According to prosecutors, Blagoyevich was frustrated that the Obama transition team weren’t willing to give him “anything but appreciation.” “I’ve got this thing and it’s effing golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for effing nothing. I’m not gonna do it,” prosecutors quoted Blagojevich as saying.

He was impeached and removed from office by the Illinois legislature after his arrest just one month after Obama took office. Each charge comes with a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. He will be sentenced on August 1st and could be going away for a long, long time.

More details on Politico, The Hill, CNN, Chicago Tribune

Poor Charlie Rangel

November 15, 2010

He’s only had 2 years to prepare for his ethics trial but he couldn’t figure out how to have an attorney present with him this morning as the trial began. He argued with the ethics committee chairwoman, Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California as the hearing opened. He asserted he was “entitled to a lawyer” while Lofgren responded that he had had ample opportunity to prepare for his legal defense and had not been prevented from acquiring legal counsel. Rangel “parted ways” with his previous attorneys in October.

Before he stomped out of the proceedings, he did admit it would be “very, very unwise” to represent himself.

He then released a statement complaining about his “unfair” treatment:

“I hope that my colleagues in Congress, friends, constituents and anyone paying attention will consider my statement and how the committee has been unfair to me. They can do what they will with me because they have the power and I have no real chance of fighting back.”

Rep Lofgren announced this afternoon that “there is no genuine issue” or dispute over the facts in the case. She also closed the committee – composed of 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats – to discuss each of the 13 counts against Rangel. Those deliberations could take hours to days.

Shocker! Big Pharma paying docs big bucks.

October 25, 2010

New research by ProPublica shows that Big Pharma is paying docs hundreds of millions of dollars to pitch their product.  Seven companies have now disclosed their payout information (only 36% of pharmaceutical companies).  Those 7 companies doled out $257.8 million to about 17,700 providers from the beginning of 2009 through June of 2010.  Almost 400 people received over 6 figures and 43 physicians made more than $200,000 — including two who topped $300,000.

Moving away from freebie spiffs like pens and ties, big pharma has relied more heavily on the people trusted most by doctors — their peers. Today, tens of thousands of U.S. physicians are paid to spread the word about pharma’s favored pills and to “advise” the companies about research and marketing.

According to a recent article, those doctors, “recruited and trained by the drug companies, those physicians — accompanied by drug reps — give talks to doctors over small dinners, lecture during hospital teaching sessions and chat over the Internet. They typically must adhere to company slides and talking points.”

For the pharmaceutical companies, one effective speaker may not only teach dozens of physicians how to better recognize a condition, but sell them on a drug to treat it. The success of one drug can mean hundreds of millions in profits, or more. Last year, prescription drugs sales in the United States topped $300 billion, according to IMS Health, a healthcare information and consulting company.

Here is one example of what’s happening:

Last summer, as drug giant Glaxo battled efforts to yank its blockbuster diabetes drug Avandia from the market, Nashville cardiologist Hal Roseman worked the front lines.

At an FDA hearing, he borrowed David Letterman’s shtick to deliver a “Top Five” list of reasons to keep the drug on the market despite evidence it caused heart problems. He faced off against a renowned Yale cardiologist and Avandia critic on the PBS NewsHour, arguing that the drug’s risks had been overblown.

“I still feel very convinced in the drug,” Roseman said with relaxed confidence. The FDA severely restricted access to the drug last month citing its risks.

Roseman is not a researcher with published peer-reviewed studies to his name. Nor is he on the staff of a top academic medical center or in a leadership role among his colleagues.

Roseman’s public profile comes from his work as one of Glaxo’s highest-paid speakers. In 2009 and 2010, he earned $223,250 from the firm — in addition to payouts from other companies.

Avandia is more than twice as expensive as its generic counterpart, Glucophage.

That’s not all. A recently unsealed whistleblower lawsuit against Novartis, the nation’s sixth-largest drug maker by sales, alleges that many speakers were chosen “on their prescription potential rather than their true credentials.”

Speakers were used and paid as long as they kept their prescription levels up, even though “several speakers had difficulty with English,” according to the amended complaint filed this year in federal court in Philadelphia. In several instances, those former employees say that physicians were told to push “off-label” uses for various drugs.

Other allegations include:

Allergan, the maker of Botox, created faux advisory boards solely “to reward hundreds of its top injectors,” federal prosecutors charged this month. More than 200 doctors, for example, were put up at an oceanfront resort in Newport Beach, Calif., in 2005 and 2006 and paid $1,500 to listen to presentations, according to their sentencing memorandum.

Allergan settled with the government for $600 million last month and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for misbranding Botox. Allergan said in a statement that it is “committed to conducting its business with the highest ethical standards and in compliance with all applicable laws.”

Additionally,

Forest Laboratories created “preceptorship” programs in which physicians were paid up to $1,000 each to allow a sales rep to spend time observing their practice. “In reality, Forest sales representatives used the preceptorships to induce physicians to prescribe [anti-depressants] Celexa and Lexapro,” according to a 2009 complaint filed by federal attorneys in Massachusetts.

The reps filled out “return on investment” forms to justify the payments from 1999 until 2003. One rep noted that a psychiatrist’s prescription “numbers were trending up,” and “we need to keep a good thing going as long as we are still getting this kind of growth,” the complaint said.

Many more examples are now seeing the light of day thanks to a new law requiring all pharmaceutical companies to report their payments to doctors. That law takes full effect in 2013.

Grading political ads

October 1, 2010

Deseret News and KSL are teaming up for a new project, beyond their joint news reporting. They announced shortly after their merger they would be working to “elevate the tone and nature of engagement in the political arena”.

The Deseret Media Companies CEO Mark Willes said they want to “help candidates focus on what they stand for” and “focus on real issues rather than things that really aren’t issues.” So, they have decided they will start grading political ads on their “civility”. From the DNews article about this new plan, we read that “one or more” independent groups will rate these ads. At least one of those group will consist of poli-sci students at the University of Utah.

According to the DMC statement, political dialogue should:

 Focus on issues and facts, not innuendo.
Discuss platforms and avoid personal attacks.
Inform rather than incite the electorate.
Avoid hyperbole in favor of balanced and reasoned discussion.
Afford respect and dignity to the political process, political opponents and other people regardless of race, nationality, religion and political viewpoint.

In a recent class those same poli-sci students were told the goal is to shame candidates into pulling their ads if the group deemed them “negative”. They were also told that threats of a lawsuit could convince smaller market radio and TV stations to pull the ads.

Recent experience would seem to show that one person’s negative ad is another person’s honest reporting of the facts. So what do you think? Should we start grading political ads? Why or why not?

Jason Mattera confronts Steny Hoyer

September 18, 2010

One of the “vloggers” who spoke at the recent BlogCon. Jason is a genius.

Gone diggin’

September 2, 2010

Digging around in campaign finance reports and candidate information is oh-so-much fun. Here is today’s doozy.

Democrat Tyler Ayres is running for office in south Salt Lake county. He’s a DUI attorney whose professional website proudly proclaims “COPS LIE!” (Now there’s a winning platform.) He goes on to say “Do not let police officers and prosecutors take away your rights and liberties.” He’s been in the news a few times recently as well – Ronnie Lee Gardner was his client and his former paralegal, Leticia Avila is the one the Utah state bar sued for practicing law without a degree and defrauding illegal immigrants.

Anyway, being against cops and all that, his regard for the laws of the land seem a bit, um, creative. Looking through the campaign finance reports , he shows 2 loans for $10K each. Trouble is, they were made by companies that don’t seem to exist - at least not legally. One, “Rocky Mountain Sports Alliance” doesn’t exist at all. It used to, but it went out of business in 2003. A call to the number listed on cached pages on the Internet goes to a headhunter company that has nothing to do with backpacking equipment. The other company is “Ultimate Combat Experience.” They have a website, but they haven’t filed to do business in Utah. Oopsies.

He’s also paying a campaign consulting company – Avenues Group LLC – that – again – is not registered to do business in Utah. They also did not file their required reporting documents by the Aug 31 deadline. Double oopsies. (But they got a sweet gig – $3700 bucks to do candy bags for a parade!)

His campaign website proclaims he is for ethical government. Apparently, that’s UEG style.

Maxine Waters and holes

September 1, 2010

Remember the #1 rule of holes?  When you’re in one, STOP DIGGING.  Well, apparently Rep Maxine Waters (D-CA) never learned that rule.  Or can’t recognize a hole when she’s in one.

Already up on ethics charges for funky financial dealings, she is now exploiting FEC rules to raise big bucks from California politicians.   She charges for her endorsement on elections mailers.  This cycle alone, she has raised an astounding 59% – almost $300,000 – of her total campaign bucks through this skirting of the intent of the law.

“Friends of Barbara Boxer” paid $5000 for the privilege.  Gloria Romero, the former Senate Majority Leader running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, chipped in $25,000. Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco and a candidate for lieutenant governor, and Kamala Harris, San Francisco’s district attorney and a candidate for state attorney general, have kicked in $45,000 and $25,000 respectively. Dave Jones, candidate for State Insurance Commissioner, invested $25,000.

From state assembly candidates to judges to city council members, city attorneys, school board candidates and even insurance commissioners, all are willing to pony up amounts far in excess of what the FEC allows. For a fee, she has endorsed 46 candidates and ballot measures.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, an FEC spokesperson said that:

money paid for slate mailers “…is exempt from the definition of ‘contribution’ and ‘expenditure’ under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA).” Like the interest campaigns earn from a bank account or investment income they might receive if they’ve invested in stocks, slate mailers are income to the campaign, usually categorized as “other” in FEC summaries and by other organizations that aggregate contributions data like the Center for Responsive Politics.

Further, Waters is the only representative (so far) to monetize her elected position in this way – but she has figured out a way to capture some big bucks. From the same article by the Sunlight Foundation, we read:

Waters’ unusual fundraising niche has proved lucrative. Most candidates rely on individuals, PACs or their own wallets (called self-financing). Other incumbents from the Los Angeles County Congressional Delegation get 99.3 percent or more of their campaign cash from those three sources of funding, with the balance coming from other sources that include income like interest payments, returns on investments, transfers from other committees and reporting errors. For her colleagues from Los Angeles that fourth category of money—usually labeled as “other”—makes up between 0 and 7 percent of their campaign cash; Waters comes in at 59 percent.

Now that people know, instead of Waters backing off, I predict more California politicians will take advantage of this loophole. What do you think?

UEG, hypocrisy is thy name

August 26, 2010

Utahns for Ethical Government, the cleverly named movement to gut the Utah legislature, is apparently having a hard time with that simple word “ethics“. Not only are they forcing the issue to court and not only are there no watchers to watch the watchers, the chairman of the committee, Kim Burningham, conveniently “forgot” to disclose his affiliation with UEG when he filed to run for the state board of education.

He lists his employer as Franklin-Covey, then under “organization or entity for which you serve on the board of directors or in any other formal advisory capacity“, he lists the Utah School Boards Association. That’s it. The last question asks again for the candidate to describe “any other matter or interest you believe may constitute a conflict of interest“. It’s blank. Seems like Mr. Burningham is more of a do-as-I-say kind of guy. Of course when he would be a lifetime appointee with no one ever able to oversee your doings, notifying the public might have just slipped his mind. Perhaps the best option is to hold him to his own UEG standards – guilty until proven innocent.

(H/T to Joe the sausagegrinder)

Power trips and brain damage

August 16, 2010

This weekend, a fascinating article appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Author Jonah Lehrer wote an article titled The Power Trip. Have you ever thought that the nice person you used to know changed once they got a little power? Well, you’re right. Power DOES change people – nice people. Lehrer calls it the “Paradox of Power” and describes it like this: The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude.

So what happens when people START OUT “impulsive, reckless and rude”? While there are exceptions, the good news is, most of them do not ascend to positions of power. Rather, because they are not nice, no one wants to be around them and they are ostracized. Lehrer pointed to research done at Berkeley, in the military, corporations and within politics. What those studies showed contradicts that cliché of power, that “nice guys finish last.”  What they found was that nice guys finish first. “People give authority to people that they genuinely like,” quoted Lehrer.

The bad news, though, is what happens to those “nice guys” once they actually get power.

“It’s an incredibly consistent effect,” Mr. Keltner. [a researcher from Berkeley] says. “When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools. They flirt inappropriately, tease in a hostile fashion, and become totally impulsive.” Mr. Keltner compares the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that’s crucial for empathy and decision-making. Even the most virtuous people can be undone by the corner office.

The article points out that power also creates hypocrites. People know the right thing to do, but their sense of power allows them to rationalize away ethicial lapses. From the world of politics to the boardroom to college sororieties, the examples are endless. One study asked individuals to judge others who would do things like drive too fast if they were late for an appointment. People in the high-power group “consistently said it was worse when others committed those crimes than when they did themselves. In other words, the feeling of eminence led people to conclude that they had a good reason for speeding—they’re important people, with important things to do—but that everyone else should follow the posted signs.” Later in the article, Lehrer points out that “people in power tend to reliably overestimate their moral virtue, which leads them to stifle oversight. They lobby against regulators, and fill corporate boards with their friends. The end result is sometimes power at its most dangerous.”  Those same flawed thought processes that come with power also distort our ability to evaluate information and make complex decisions. Ouch.

The article concludes with this example of how to mitigate some of this “brain damage” – more sunshine:

That, at least, is the lesson of a classic experiment by the economist Vernon Smith and colleagues. The study involved the dictator game, a simple economic exchange in which one person—the “dictator”—is given $10 and asked to divide the cash with another person. Although the dictators aren’t obligated to share—they are in a position of pure power—a significant majority of people act generously, and give away $2 or more to a perfect stranger.

There is one very simple tweak that erases this benevolence. When the “dictators” are socially isolated—this can occur, for instance, if the subjects are located in separate rooms, or if they’re assured anonymity—more than 60% of people keep all of the money. Instead of sharing the cash with someone else, they pocket the $10. Perhaps the corner office could use a few more windows.


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